If you’re like me, you have a lot of Mad Magazine books from the 1970s, a classic copy of Oui from 1979, and three Hungarian cookbooks. In other words, you’re a well-read individual. But how do you get those books onto your reading device? Shelfie, that’s how.
Created by Peter Hudson and Marius Muja, Shelfie allows you to take a picture of your bookshelf and return a list of discounted or free ebooks for download. Muja and Hudson studied together at UBC and Hudson originally built software for hydrologists. Marius is a PhD in computer vision. Together they solved the “big data” problem of turning paper books into digital books.
“The idea for Shelfie came from a drunken argument between me and my friend Dan,” said Hudson. “We were discussing whether or not D-Wave’s quantum computer could be used to disprove the phenomenon of human free will. Dan had just read Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science and remembered a part that would prove his point. Frustrated that he couldn’t produce his trump-card citation Dan said ‘I wish there was a way I could get digital versions of all my paper books on my phone.'”
Hudson self-financed the startup and now can identify about 45 million titles. They raised a small Angel round in 2014 with Michael Serbinis, founder of Kobo. The team is currently working on content deals and have gotten 150,000 titles available for download.
“For an average Shelfie user this means that about 10-20 percent of the books on their shelves will be eligible for free or highly discounted bundled eBooks,” said Hudson.
“The only other bundling service available to readers is a program called Kindle Matchbook. Matchbook only has about 80,000 titles available (although most are self published books from Kindle Direct Publishing), and only works if you purchased the print edition through Amazon.com using the same email address that you have registered on your Kindle,” said Hudson. “Shelfie works for any book you own, no matter if you bought it new at B&N, used at The Strand, or got it as a gift.”
Book publishers, for their part, are slowly climbing aboard the Shelfie train. Because they are benighted incumbents staffed by Philistines who don’t understand true art, however, they are a bit slow to understand what Shelfie brings to the table. If enough people start requesting e-copies of The Vintage Mad and The Rip Off Mad, however, I’m sure they’ll come around.